Civics Education Resource Site

Election 2020 Toolkit

This year brings an opportunity to use the elections to engage students in the proven practices of civic education outlined in 6-12th grade civics course mandates. IllinoisCivics.org has created a tool kit to provide resources and lesson plans to support this important work.

Why Engage Students in Voting and Elections?

  • The Teaching for Democracy Alliance has materials to equip teachers and administrators to engage students in elections and voting in a productive and safe way.
  • Should School Teach Students to Vote? YES! by Diana Hess explains how teachers can impact young people's involvement in elections by not only teaching about elections but also about how to register to vote and how to go about voting.

Why Vote?

  • In To Vote or Not to Vote from PBS Learning Media students will view three short films that explore the importance of voting. Each film/activity examines the topic from a different, thought-provoking perspective.
  • The C3 Inquiry Voting has students investigate the issues behind youth voting and evaluate their interests to determine whether or not they will vote in the next election.
  • How Voters Decide from Crash Course Government and Politics explores the motivations for voting.

Understanding the Nomination Process

  • A brief video from Why Tuesday? illustrates how the Iowa Caucuses work.
  • PBS Learning Media has a lesson that explores the history of the Iowa Caucus and the benefits of being “first in the nation.”
  • PBS NewsHour Extra has a lesson called “What are Primaries and Caucuses?
  • The Bill of Rights Institute has resources for “The Iowa Caucus and Beyond.”
  • Civics 101 has an episode devoted to explaining primaries and caucuses.
  • FiveThirtyEight launched a special series called The Primary Project. Its first episode features the 1968 Convention in Chicago and its impact on current events.
  • Stranglehold from New Hampshire Public Radio explores the history, personalities, and challenges of being the site of the first in the nation primary election.
  • Caucus Land from Iowa Public Radio explores, “Where the road to the White House begins!”
  • The 2/17 #SSCHAT shared resources around Teaching the 2020 Primaries.
  • The Electoral Process from iCivics takes a peek into the electoral process from party primaries to the general election.
  • How the World Votes: The Iowa Caucuses and Voter Representation by Facing History and Ourselves provides teaching ideas to help students understand how the Iowa caucuses work, prompts them to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of voting in person at a caucus, and invites them to explore the question of whether Iowa should be the first state to vote in the presidential primary season.

Understanding the General Election & Electoral College

Understanding Initiatives and Referendums

  • Illinois Civics will host a free webinar on May 12th, Does the Progressive Tax “Add Up” for Illinois, that will examine the referendum on the Illinois Fair Tax, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would change the state income tax system from a flat tax to a graduated income tax.
  • Got Ballot from iCivics takes students to the voting booth and explains what they might see on a typical ballot. Students will discover how voters have the opportunity to initiate change in state and local government.
  • Becoming an Informed Voter: Creating Initiatives from the Center for Civic Education focuses on a voter’s need to be fully informed prior to casting a vote on Election Day and how to acquire the necessary information.
  • Ballot Initiatives: Direct Democracy vs. Representative Democracy from the Citizen Advocacy Center poses the question, “How much of a direct say should citizens have in government decisions?”

Information Literacy Related to Elections

  • Illinois Civics has a lesson around Scientific vs Unscientific Polls.
  • Explore how a handful of educators are touting the benefits of using math to teach civics, and vice versa, in this Education Week article, Math, The Most Powerful Civics Lesson You’ve Ever Had.
  • The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) created a 2020 Election Center to track youth voter registration rates, their views on the candidates, and involvement in the political process.
  • FiveThirtyEight has tracking polls in contested congressional races and the race for the White House.
  • PBS Learning Media has a lesson called Poll Dance that introduces students to important aspects of valid polling.
  • PBS News Hour's interactive Decoding Media Bias Lesson Plan teaches students how to critically analyze media sources on the government and politics.
  • The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) has curated election resources to help students understand how to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of media for full participation in a 21st-century democracy.
  • Can Polls be Trusted? from C3 Teachers has students evaluate what polls are, how they are used, and how we are growing more confused by them.
  • Destination White House from the National Constitution Center takes an in-depth look at presidential elections, specifically the role of television commercials in campaigning.
  • You Be the Expert from Growing Voters has students use free online tools to ask their own questions and survey public opinion.

Researching Candidates

  • In the Illinois Civics lesson, Let’s Party: Understanding the Role of Political Parties, students explore the role of political parties and research various parties platforms.
  • The League of Women Voters of Illinois has an overview of the election calendar for Illinois and links to nonpartisan voter guides.
  • Project Vote Smart’s Vote Easy platform compares candidates in both presidential and congressional races by their positions on key issues.
  • Looking for some online quizzes to match your students with candidates? Try iSideWith or ProCon.org.
  • Ballotpedia has resources for students to see who is on the ballot in their region.
  • Issues Voting from C3 Teachers leads students through an investigation of policy voting, i.e. aligning their own beliefs with policies of political parties and candidates.
  • Political Parties from C3 Teachers leads students through an investigation of political issues and political parties. Students consider their own political ideology as a lens for learning about the extent to which political parties address international and domestic issues.
  • iCivics has a Candidate Report Card lesson. Students select the issues and qualities they care about, then research candidates running for the office to determine how the candidates rate, as they learn about the campaigns.
  • The Ballot and Questions from The Center for Civic Education focuses on a voter’s need to be fully informed prior to casting a vote on Election Day, and how to acquire the necessary information.
  • Project Vote Smart Vote Easy platform allows students to click on a presidential or congressional candidate’s sign to see their positions on key issues OR compare their issue positions to those of all the candidates.

Simulation Resources

  • There are Iowa Caucus classroom simulations from the Iowa Secretary of State, one for Democrats and another for Republicans.
  • It will take 270 electoral votes to win the 2020 presidential election. 270 to Win allows students to choose states on an interactive map to create their own 2020 election forecast. There are also maps related to congressional and state legislative elections.
  • iCivics has created a three day Mock Election simulation. Students explain the steps taken from party formation to national election and act out the campaigning and voting process by simulating a real election in their own classroom.
  • The iCivics online game Cast Your Vote has students discover what it takes to become an informed voter — from knowing where you stand on important issues to uncovering what you need to know about candidates.
  • The iCivics online game Win The White House challenges students to build a presidential campaign by building arguments to support timely issues, strategically raise funds to support your campaign, keeping campaign momentum through targeted media campaigns and personal appearances, and polling local voters to see what issues resonate.

Current and Societal Issue Discussion Resources

  • Illinois Civics has a Voting at 16 lesson in which students engage in a Structured Academic controversy to deliberate lowering the voting age.
  • CSPAN classroom's Deliberations website provides in-depth lessons designed to engage students in debate about current issues, including topics related to elections.
  • Above the Noise, a YouTube series from KQED for teens, cuts through the hype and dives deep into the research behind the issues affecting their daily lives. Every other Wednesday, the series investigates controversial subject matter to help young viewers draw informed conclusions while inspiring media literacy and civic engagement.
  • ProCon.org has Lesson Plans: 2020 Election and Beyond that tackles issues like the electoral college and traces political issues throughout history.
  • The Student Government Affairs program has research links and critical questions for a plethora of issues that will take center stage in the 2020 election season.
  • AllSides for Schools has materials for student deliberations on topics that will be center stage in the 2020 election.
  • Debating the Electoral College is a lesson from KQED Learning that has students deliberate if it is time to reform the process of selecting the president.
  • Appraising the Electoral College from the Bill of Rights Institute examines how the Electoral College functions and why the Framers thought it was a good idea. Student will view two videos debating whether the Electoral College works for the greater good, and explore historical election result maps.

Service Learning Through Informed Action

  • In Growing Voters: 18 Ways Youth Under 18 Can Contribute to Elections, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) explores authentic actions young people can engage in to participate in the 2020 elections.
  • Mikva Challenge curated five lessons to help students take Elections to Action.
  • KQED Let’s Talk About Election 2020 has students create and publish audio or video commentaries for a national audience, addressing real topics from immigration to climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic and more.
  • Know Your Vote, Know Your Issues from PBS Learning Media has students examine problems surrounding health care costs, funding higher education, and preserving social security. Then, students look at how the current presidential candidates are proposing to address these issues and formulate a short media presentation using Flipgrid or some other media presentation tool to endorse one candidate.
  • Beyond the Ballot from Generation Citizen equips students to choose an issue to address in their community and seek out the appropriate elected official to address it.
  • The Digital Civics Toolkit is a collection of resources for educators to support youth to explore, recognize, and take seriously the civic potentials of digital life.
  • The Chicago Public Schools Social Science and Civic Engagement Department have create an independent digital civic action project around the question, How do we get people to vote?
  • The Growing Voters lesson plan Civics in the Community: Lemonade Stand has middle school students create "Why Vote" pamphlets to show the importance of active participation in the democratic process. Students can hand it out in public at a school event, at a shopping center, or a sporting event.
  • The Growing Voters lesson plan Kid-to-Kid has students learn by teaching. They develop and make a presentation on elections to younger grades of students in their schools or share online.
  • In Growing Voters' Electoral College Activity, students will be able to both learn and apply their understanding of the role and function of this element of our electoral system by creating infographics to inform others.

Historical Context to Understand Elections

Impact of COVID-19 on Elections

Resources to Understand the Illinois Graduated Income Tax Amendment